Occupational Records and Family History: Fishing for memories at Hale's Bar

A Labor Day weekend visit back home to Chattanooga gave me an opportunity to follow up on some genealogy research that I have been working on for my paternal line, and to explore a little bit of employment history in my own family.

In part one of this series on Occupational Records and Family History, I explored my paternal grandfather's work as an auto mechanic, and how archival records revealed his path from a poor farm boy in Easley, South Carolina, to a well-respected mechanic and independent businessman in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In this second installment in the series, I will explore the work of my great-grandfather, William Paul Goins. I have written before about the Goins branch of my family tree, and I have spent quite a bit of time getting to know my great-grandfather -- a man that died years before I was born -- through family stories and archival documents.

What brought me to this place in my genealogical journey was a childhood trek to the old Hales Bar Lock and Dam, which now serves as a marina, and was once the place where my dad took me and my brother fishing for the very first time. I can remember baiting my first hook and catching my first fish on the shores of that marina. It was a thrill that brings back fond memories of the times that I had bonding with my dad and younger brother. As a child, I had no idea that this place also held such a strong family connection for my father.

World War I draft cards for William and his brother, Arthur, reveal that as a young man, William Paul Goins and his brother worked as ferrymen for their father's ferry business, "Goins & Lay," which operated on the Tennessee River.

William Paul Goins and his brother, Arthur Goins registered for the draft during World War I. On the left, my great-grandfather's draft registration card says that his occupation was a "Public Ferryman" on the Tennessee River. On the right, my great-grand uncle, Arthur, lists his occupation as "Ferryman" and his employer as "Goins & Lay."

Following the war, Arthur returned to the ferry business, but William found work with the Tennessee Valley Authority at the Hales Bar Lock and Dam. Constructed in 1905 and completed in 1913, Hales Bar Dam has the distinction of being the first main-river, multipurpose dam built on the Tennessee River, and was the largest development of its kind in the region. The dam itself measured almost one-half miles across and sixty-three feet high. The project employed over five thousand men, requiring the construction of a small village to feed and house the workers. My grandfather and his family were among those who called that small village of Guild, Tennessee home.

My great-grandfather, William Paul Goins (standing in the back row, fourth from the left), was among the employees of TVA's Hale's Bar Dam. Image from Webb's Hales Bar Lock & Dam History located in the South Reading Room of the Tennessee State Library & Archives.

According to Nonie Hlobel Webb's book, Hales Bar Lock & Dam History: Its Past, Its People and Its Events, the town of Guild was named for Jo Conn Guild, the man who originally conceived of the idea of building the plant, and who later became one of the staunchest and most outspoken opponents of FDR's "New Deal" and the newly formed Tennessee Valley Authority. Guild's Hales Bar Dam brought with it a town complete with its own Post Office, telephone service, sewer and electric system, express and telegraph offices, stores, moving picture shows, a boxing amphitheater, baseball park, athletic clubhouse, police station, steamboat wharves, and railroad station.

Hales Bar Dam as it exists today, a shell of its former self, and surrounded by a recreational marina. Author photo.

When I spoke to my father about his memories of his grandfather, he said “Daddy Goins” would return home from work every evening covered in coal ash from head to toe from working in the steam plant of the Hales Bar Dam. A page from the 1930 United States Census also confirmed the stories handed down through the generations, revealing my great-grandfather's occupation as "Stoker Fireman, Electric Plant."

My father also vaguely remembers attending the third grade at the Guild Elementary School, a school established as the successor to Hales Bar Elementary built for the convenience of the employees of Hales Bar and their children. Another book entitled, Hales Bar School: 1920s to 1941, gave me further insights into what life was like for my father's ancestors at the time. Work was tough, but the family lived in a close-knit community, and built a work ethic that still resonates within my own genes to this day, albeit in the less physically strenuous confines of the archival profession.

My great-grandparents, Grace and William Paul Goins
When William Paul Goins died on May 14, 1958, his death certificate revealed that he was retired from the TVA at the time of his death. It also revealed that my great-grandfather called Guild, Tennessee his home for 40 years. I never knew my great-grandfather, but I do have fond memories of my great-grandmother, "Mama Goins," and the holiday visits with her and my cousins, aunts, uncles, and other relatives on Mother's Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. As a young boy, I never thought to ask Mama Goins about our family history, his work on the Hales Bar Dam, or what life was like in Guild, Tennessee. I never knew of the hard work and sacrifice that was part of William Paul Goins' life. Today, I have a greater appreciation for that hard work and determination, and fortunately, I still have connections to relatives, and the documents left behind at the Tennessee State Library and Archives and other archival repositories which will help me retrace the steps of his chosen profession. My great-grandfather's occupation helped to provide for his family, and also helped to build a lasting legacy for his future generations, including me.

In the final installment in this series, I plan to go further back in time to learn more about the ferry business of my great-great-grandfather, William Goins. I hope you'll join me as I continue this personal journey to "document the links to my past."


Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.